Tomás Saraceno: Cloud-Specific

Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum presents new works that reach for the sky Sept. 9 to Jan. 9, 2012

Tomás Saraceno, Cloud City/Airport City, 2010. Paper model, 65 9/16 x 13 3/4 x 15 3/4″. Courtesy of the artist. Hi-res image available upon request.

With utopian ambition and scientific precision, Tomás Saraceno redefines both the built environment and the role of the artist. His spectacular, gravity-defying installations and visionary sculptural models — inspired by clouds, bubbles, spider webs and other natural structures — explore connections between complex social and ecological systems while raising pointed questions about our own relationships to an increasingly fragile natural world.

This fall, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum will present Tomás Saraceno: Cloud-Specific. Highlighting the breadth of Saraceno’s cross-disciplinary practice, the exhibition specifically advances his Air-Port-City (2001–present), a wide-ranging technical and theoretical investigation into the possibility of creating a sustainable city-in-the-sky.

“Saraceno effectively transforms the gallery into an investigative laboratory containing models and prototypes as well as inflatable sculptures and documentary video of the artist conducting tests in the field,” says Meredith Malone, exhibition curator at the Kemper Art Museum. “We are thrilled to present his work and to support the production of ambitious new pieces that strikingly synthesize art, architecture, engineering and the natural sciences.”

Trained as an architect, Saraceno builds on the radical experimentation of Buckminster Fuller, Gyula Kosice, Archigram, the Antfarm group and others who have visualized airborne existence. Yet Saraceno grounds his designs in original research and a distinctly collaborative approach. Working with scientists and a range of engineers, chemists, physicists and botanists, Saraceno identifies contemporary predicaments — the growing ecological crisis, the social and political effects of globalization — and addresses those challenges at both micro- and macro-scales.

Entering the exhibition, visitors are confronted with a dramatic constellation of spheres, lines and points-of-support including Biosphere 05 (a term referring to the part of the world in which life can exist). The piece consists of two webbed globes, both constructed of elastic cord and black rope, that hang suspended in the air at different heights. Strands of cording branch out and attach to floor, walls and ceiling, reverberating with every touch from a passerby and evoking a series of associations, from spider webs and interconnected digital networks to the structure of galaxies and the neuronal channels of the human brain.

Also on view will be a series of models relating to Saraceno’s Air-Port-City. Elegantly defying national boundaries, this floating yet entirely self-sufficient metropolis is comprised of individual living units that, clustered together, suggest the ethereal, infinitely adaptable structures of clouds or bubble formations. In addition, the exhibition will feature Large Cloud Module (2011), a polyhedron-shaped prototype for a single living unit. Built of lightweight aluminum and clear PVC, the module measures five meters in diameter and strongly resembles a geodesic balloon.

Rounding out the exhibition will be Space Elevator (2009-10), a video projection that documents Saraceno and his team testing concepts and materials in the form of a field trial. As the title suggests, the piece playfully appropriates the spirit of an actual NASA endeavor, which aims to produce an “elevator” reaching from Earth’s surface into space. In the video, Saraceno and collaborators are shown inflating three large balloons that glisten brightly against a blue Argentine sky. Suspended between the balloons and the land below is a small tent in which the artist himself sits and, soon, is lifted aloft, like so much cargo en route to the heavens above.


Tomás Saraceno: Cloud-Specific will be accompanied by a forthcoming catalog coedited by Malone, associate curator of the Kemper Art Museum, and Igor Marjanovic, associate professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Distributed by University of Chicago Press, the catalog will be among the first substantial publications devoted to Saraceno’s work. It will include installation photographs from Cloud-Specific as well as essays by Malone, Marjanovic and Inés Katzenstein.

About the artist

Saraceno was born in Tucamán, Argentina, in 1973 and currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany. He trained as an architect at the Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires (1992-99) and did postgraduate work in Art & Architecture at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Kunst, Frankfurt (2001-03). In 2009, he won the Calder Prize — awarded biannually to a living artist who has completed innovative work early in his or her career — and served as artist-in-residence at NASA’s International Space Studies Program.

Saraceno has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston (2010); Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2010); Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg (2009); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2009); Berkeley Art Museum, University of California (2007); and Portikus, Frankfurt (2006).

Recent group exhibitions include The Divine Comedy, Harvard Art Museums (2011); Rethink: Contemporary Art & Climate Change, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen (2009); Life Forms, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2009); Radical Nature, Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009, Barbican Art Gallery, London (2009); Making Worlds, the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009); Megastructure Reloaded, Berlin (2008); and Psycho Buildings: Architecture by Artists, Hayward Gallery, London (2008).

Upcoming projects include major commissions for the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, K21 in Dusseldorf and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum

The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, part of Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, is committed to furthering critical thinking and visual literacy through a vital program of exhibitions, publications and accompanying events. The museum dates back to 1881, making it the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi River. Today, it boasts one of the finest university collections in the United States.

Support for the exhibition is generously provided by I-CARES at Washington University in St. Louis; the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; the Regional Arts Commission; James M. Kemper, Jr.; the David Woods Kemper Memorial Foundation; John and Anabeth Weil; the Hortense Lewin Art Fund; and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.

Tomás Saraceno: Cloud-Specific will open with a public reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, and will remain on view through Jan. 9, 2012. Both the reception and the exhibition are free and open to the public. The Kemper Art Museum is located on Washington University’s Danforth Campus, immediately adjacent to Steinberg Hall, near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards. Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The Museum is closed Tuesdays.

For more information, call (314) 935-4523 or visit


WHO: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum

WHAT: Exhibition, Tomás Saraceno: Cloud-Specific

WHEN: Sept. 9 to Jan. 9, 2012; Opening 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9.

WHERE: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, near the intersection of Forsyth and Skinker boulevards

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Tuesdays.

COST: Free and open to the public

INFORMATION: (314) 935-4523 or